Ephemera 7/10/17

  1. More consequential than dogma
  2. Western civilization, Western culture
  3. Not about the pronouns
  4. The empty storefronts of public architecture
  5. Donald Trump’s morality lessons
  6. People want things simplified

1

Although we don’t argue about this empowering truth, that God “is,” as Christians, we do often lose sight of it, I think, in our personal lives. At least I do. I often begin to play “God” myself, when I slip into self-reliance, trying to carry the whole world on my own, insufficient shoulders. Now let me make no mistake: This is a slip into falsehood and delusion, more consequential than having “questions” about any other “dogma.” When I slip into self-reliance, outside of a connection with God, I develop God-less delusions and fears, like the one about me not having sufficient “will power” to maintain the sand-castle that is a self-centered and self-reliant life.

(Sr. Vassa Larin, emphasis added)

2

As is often the case with conservatives and Trump, no matter how much you may despise him and his pomps and works, in the end, you know that he doesn’t hate your beliefs, and that he and his government aren’t going to use the power of the State to suppress you as a threat to public order and all things good and holy.

That’s not nothing.

We have to distinguish between Western civilization and Western culture. I’m sure academics would dispute my use of these terms here, so I apologize for that. But I think it’s a helpful way to discern things. When I think of “civilization,” I think of the vast agglomeration of all the particular cultures within Western civilization, going back to antiquity. By contrast, I consider culture to be what we are, very generally, at this point in time.

I find it very hard to defend Western culture, in this sense. But I find it vital to defend Western civilization …

[W]e on the Right need to have serious conversations, and do serious thinking, about which parts of Western civilization we need to defend. We need to ask ourselves the question posed by Patrick Deneen, among others: Is the point we’ve come to in America and the West a corruption of the Enlightenment (which is to say, classical liberalism), or its inevitable end point? 

And if the answer is the latter, what do we do about it?

(Rod Dreher)

3

“Give me liberty or give me death!” (Patrick Henry, 1775)

“I’m not going to use those damned pronouns.” (Jordan Peterson, 2016, quoted in Taking on the P.C. Crowd in the July/August American Conservative) Also this: “It’s not about the pronouns — it never was about the pronouns.”

4

Dry fountains are the empty storefronts of public architecture, depressing testaments to civic shortcomings. When running, they rush with life and energy. When they fail, they are sad clowns amid the marble — mute and downcast.

(Steve Hendrix, Washington Post)

5

Charles Blow of The New York Times spoke for many in a recent column that used a series of terms one now regularly hears tripping from liberal lips: “We must remind ourselves that Trump’s very presence in the White House defiles it and the institution of the presidency. Rather than rising to the honor of the office, Trump has lowered the office with his whiny, fragile, vindictive pettiness.”

Every italicized word is a term of distinction, referring to and presuming the possibility of making vertical moral distinctions: pure and defiled, rising and falling, honorable and dishonorable, higher and lower. The same kind of distinctions are implied every time someone describes Trump’s actions or statements as “unpresidential.” Since he’s the president, the claim would seem to be self-refuting — unless, that is, we believe that the office of the presidency itself, apart from the behavior of any particular president, is honorable, noble, elevated, exalted, something to which we rightly look up and from which a particular president can diverge or fall short.

The liberal political tradition from Hobbes to Rawls, by contrast, has always been suspicious of the vertical dimension of morality, worrying that it fosters aristocratic and illiberal passions that decent politics must constrain, thwart, or channel into less publicly dangerous pursuits. Yet the most thoughtful liberal thinkers have also understood that decent politics necessarily presupposes that citizens affirm the reality of such distinctions.

For those liberals inclined to forget the need for them, or to complacently assume that they will always be there to draw on and elevate public life, the jarring experience of living under President Trump is a potent reminder of just how crucially important (and fragile) vertical moral distinctions really are.

(Damon Linker, What liberals can learn about morality from Donald Trump)

6

An American-born Muslim woman of Palestinian ancestry gives a speech to a largest assembly of North American Muslims, using the word “jihad” to describe the struggle against Donald Trump.

Crickets.

Then some “conservatives” and Trump family looking for another causus belli catch wind of it and she becomes, for her 15 minutes of fame, the cartoonish personification of evil.

Newly empowered, she takes to the pages of a leading newspaper, dislocating her shoulder with pats on her own back as an effective leader and the cartoonish Islamophobes’ worst nightmare.

I’m not naming names because naming names and leveling charges is how the Rage Racket, left and right, works. These people, ostensibly enemies, need each other like Donald Trump needs “fake news” or a junkie needs heroin. And it’s all so very, very ephemeral.

As, perhaps, is what I’m typically up to in this blog, although I like to think that I’m doing more “ironic distancing” than rage most of the time.

I listened Sunday night to the maiden voyage of the Image podcast, an interview with Richard Rodriguez. He recounted a story about a recent invitation to speak on a college campus. His hosts persuaded a local bookstore to order dozens of copies of his latest book. Not a single copy was sold. Rodriguez has come to expect that:

I continue reading, and I’m writing less … “It takes a good reader to make a good book” (quoting Emerson). I’m finding myself now in a world where I suspect there are fewer readers who take pleasure in complicated sentences. People want things simplified … I’ve always had the freedom, in writing literary essays, to write complicated prose with the assumption that there are people who would take pleasure in that kind of complication. I no longer assume that …

America is now, in effect, stuck on “picture books” and resistant to “page books” unless they’re pornographic.

I’ve been struggling with James Matthew Wilson, The Vision of the Soul: Truth, Goodness, and Beauty in the Western Tradition. It has complicated, beautiful sentences. It’s taking me unfamiliar places. I’m marking passages in clusters and then pages follow with no markings, probably indicating that my mind wandered. I know I’ve caught myself and gone back to re-read repeatedly.

It is not the book’s fault. It takes a good reader to make a good book. I once was a pretty good reader and I intend to become one again.

* * * * *

There is no epistemological Switzerland. (Via Mars Hill Audio Journal Volume 134)

Some succinct standing advice on recurring themes.